The View from the Center

On Friday the 13th

Feelin' lucky?

5/13/2011

Okay, triskaidekaphobes – it’s Friday the 13th. Why is today unlucky? According to author Nathaniel Lachenmeyer, who wrote a book about the superstition simply titled 13, it’s a reference to the crucifixion of Christ. Good Friday was preceded by the Last Supper, a table that sat thirteen – Jesus and his 12 apostles. The taboo against seating thirteen people at a single table was prevalent in the 17th and 18th centuries, then in the 19th Century, Friday – also known as ‘Hangman’s Day’ - became intertwined with the number. Some biblical scholars believe that Eve tempted Adam on a Friday, and Cain slew Abel on the 13th.
 
Donald Dossey, author of Holiday Folklore, Phobias and Fun, traces the notion back to a Norse myth about 12 gods having a dinner party at Valhalla, when in walked guest number 13, the troublemaker god Loki. Loki convinced another member of the group to shoot Balder the Beautiful, the god of joy and gladness, with a mistletoe-tipped arrow. "Balder died, and the whole Earth got dark. The whole Earth mourned. It was a bad, unlucky day," says Dossey. In ancient Rome, witches gathered in covens of 12 – the thirteenth member was the devil himself.
 
King Phillip the Fourth of France also had a hand in making Friday the 13th lousy – on October 13th, 1307 – a Friday – Phillip executed a plan to wipe out the Knights Templar through a series of mass arrests. With the backing of the Pope, members of the order were then tortured and killed so that Phillip could erase the debts he owed the Knights for protecting crusading pilgrims on the route to Jerusalem.
 
According to the National Geographic, “more than 80 percent of high-rise buildings in the US lack a 13th floor. Many airports skip the 13th gate. Hospitals and hotels regularly have no room number 13. On streets in Florence, Italy, the house between number 12 and 14 is addressed as 12 1/2. In France socialites known as the quatorziens ("fourteeners") once made themselves available as 14th guests to keep a dinner party from an unlucky fate.” In modern times, of course, Apollo 13 was a space mission fraught with problems.
 
 Author Dossey adds that between 800 and 900 million dollars in lost revenue can be attributed to the fear of Friday the 13th in the United States. Some folks don’t fly, some won’t buy a house on this date, and some folks are so terrified they simply call in sick - unless you're wearing a hockey mask and wielding a really big knife.
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Ed Wenck

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